A Peek Into My Lesson Plan Book: Identities & Life Stories
One of the struggles I’ve seen numerous middle schoolers face deals with identity. Navigating the middle years is confusing. Between hormones, growing brains, and transitioning from child to adult, students sometimes don’t understand what their identity is anymore. Writing Ideas for Middle School: My Life Story, a True Superhero Tale describes how to guide middle school students through the process of discovering their identities and writing compelling autobiographies at the same time.
Middle schoolers can be a conundrum. Caught in the middle between the elementary level and high school, they are part child and part mini adult. It takes a crazy person to enjoy this middle school age, but I definitely do. Some days, middle schoolers can make me laugh hysterically and other days, I may or may not want to bang my head against a wall…but all in all, I really do love teaching this age.
At the beginning of this school year, I decided to focus on identity with my 8th-grade students. I’m going to let you peek into my lesson plans so to speak for that first month of school.
What does identity mean?
We first began our discussion on identity by simply doing that: discussing what the word means. What does identity mean? What makes up someone’s identity? We discussed the varying factors such as one’s ethnicity, culture, religion, residence, whether they’re a sibling, a daughter, or a son. We discussed how our varying experiences can shape identity. Students wrote their life stories to demonstrate how their varied experiences helped shape their identity and who they are today.
Students first completed a timeline of ten to fifteen main events that had a big impact on their lives. Then, they used these timelines as a springboard to write their life stories. One to two main events turned into a body paragraph in their life stories. Once learning thoroughly how to write an introduction paragraph with a captivating first line, students tackled their life stories with one body paragraph a day, totally six to seven body paragraphs.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
As students completed their life stories, I read aloud the book Ghost by Jason Reynolds. This is a novel about a boy named Castle Cranshaw (nicknamed Ghost), whose life is changed drastically when he witnesses his father almost shoot his mother and then turn the gun on Castle as well. Castle and his mother ran quickly out of their apartment and thus started Castle’s first reason for running: to save his own life. Castle, or Ghost, spends most of his adolescence with his father in jail. He accumulates infractions at school and becomes a pro at running away from his problems until he literally takes up running. Ghost uses his running talent, that he did not know he possessed, to join a track team that changes his life.
We discussed how that one major event of his father almost killing him and his mother changed his life completely. It also became a catalyst for the other events in his life. We talked about how negative events in our life can shape our identity as well as positive events.
We also discussed the idea that we could use those negative events to help create change in our identity. The students also discussed how not to let it become the reason for shaping our identities in something we never wanted. Basically, there is a time for grieving, but we should use those hard life events to motivate us and not let it be an excuse to stay in a cycle of unhealthy behavior like Ghost was doing.
Your life story is your superpower
We watched the Ted Talk of Matthew Carter who was the real-life friend of Jason Reynolds and inspiration for Ghost. We heard Carter explain the situation that occurred between his mother and her boyfriend that was extremely similar to Ghost’s event of his father almost killing him and his mother. Carter used the central theme of your life story being your superpower.
We used this concept to explore more of our identity. How was our life story our superpower? Did our “superpower” shape our identity? How can we use this theme in our life stories we were writing?
Ethnicity and culture can shape identity
Next, we watched the America Ferrera Ted Talk, “My Identity is A Superpower-Not an Obstacle.” Ferrera is an award-winning actress and producer for her work on Ugly Betty. Ferrera spoke on how she had a challenging time breaking into acting because of her ethnicity. She wanted to choose roles that didn’t propel a certain stereotype of her culture-but roles that helped show real-life Latina women. Ferrera said: “I was never actually asking the system to change. I was asking it to let me in, and those aren’t the same thing.”
We answered questions about her Ted Talk and explored how ethnicity and culture can shape identity as well.
We utilized Ghost, the Matthew Carter Ted Talk, and the America Ferrera Ted Talk to help us dive deeper into their life story writing piece. I didn’t just want stories about visiting Disney and our most fun birthday party, even though students put those events in their stories as well, but I also wanted deeper events discussed- the very core events that impacted them.
Jason Reynolds never saw himself in books
We used this discussion of identity to finally explore what kinds of books we want to read in class. We learned Jason Reynolds, the author of Ghost, was an author who was never able to see himself in books and this was a major driving force for why he became an author. Students filled out graphic organizers exploring the kinds of books they wanted to read, some having to do with their identity as athletes or their interests in art. Others decided they wanted to read books about topics they’ve always loved but never dived into. This was the perfect springboard to help them choose their first independent novel for their Book Review Project which can be found here:
The importance of connecting with characters
We also discussed the importance of connecting with characters and seeing ourselves in books; yet, we can still learn from books that are completely different from our own experiences, such as our first novel study: The Diary of Anne Frank.
We went through the writing process extensively to compose their life stories. It took us a good month of drafting, peer editing, and revising but students finally accomplished penning them. The best part is they have their whole lives to shape their identities and more of their stories.
By using various Ted Talks, Ghost by Jason Reynolds, and different discussions on identity, students were able to write a deep and moving life story and explore their identities. Middle school students are at the perfect age to dive into these types of lessons as they are continually growing, learning, and becoming who they were meant to be.